A Centering Prayer Retreat with
Fr. M. Basil Pennington, O.C.S.O. - DVD (transcript online below)

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A Centering Prayer Retreat with Fr. M. Basil Pennington, OCSD

3 Hours
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This is a complete centering prayer retreat ideal for both individual or group use. Centering prayer is a very simple way of praying by making use of a prayer word. This retreat was videotaped live at a retreat given in August, 1991 at the Spiritual Life Center, Wichita, Kansas. It presents a detailed explanation of how to practice centering prayer, and includes advice, stories and warm good humor as Fr. Pennington encourages the retreatants to make centering prayer an important part of their daily lives.

Fr. Basil is one of centering prayer's pioneering presenters, a Trappist monk, and the author of many books on prayer and monasticism.

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Fr. Basil

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Fr. Basil died on
June 3, 2005 at the age of 72.




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My name is Fr. Cochran, and it is my pleasure to welcome you this evening to the Spiritual Life Center. I know many of you have been with us throughout the week, and we welcome many more who have just arrived for the weekend retreat with Fr. Basil Pennington. It is a very distinct pleasure tonight to welcome the presenter, the teacher who will be with us in these next 36 hours. I’m sure that for virtually all of us he needs no introduction. Fr. Basil Pennington is a Trappist from St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. He has roots here in Wichita, and that was the enticement of inviting him back, inviting him to come home. We are very proud to claim him as one of our own. Fr. Basil is the author of numerous books on numerous topics. Perhaps he is most well-known for his work in pioneering centering prayer, recovering that tradition and making it available to people not only throughout this country, but throughout the world. Fr. Basil has written on other topics ranging from Thomas Merton to Mary to priesthood today, he has traveled extensively to Mt. Athos in the east and recently just returned from even further east. He spent the last few months in China. Fr. Basil will return to China for a special work that he is doing there. Without further to-do, it is my pleasure to welcome Fr. Basil Pennington.

Fr. Basil. Good evening. It is a joy to be with you. This is a beautiful place. I am impressed by you, too, folks, who come out on a Friday evening and Saturday to learn a little more about prayer. It says something about the quality of the persons you are, so I feel very humbled to be called upon to try to respond to that, and I hope in some way the Lord does respond to it through me.

The last time I was with Mother Teresa in Calcutta as we were finishing breakfast, I said, "Mother, will you give me a word of life to take home to my brothers?" And she looked at me with those deep, deep eyes. She had deep brown eyes that sort of invite you to enter into them, and she said, "Father, tell them to pray that I don’t get in God’s way." So I have been praying ever since that I don’t get in God’s way. I think she does a pretty good job of it. That’s the secret: to let God be in us and through us all he or she wants to be. So it is a great joy to be with you.

Let’s just look at way that can help us in the way of prayer. Sometimes people say it is a relationship with a friend, with a lover. You don’t need methods or ways. It just sort of happens. Well, as we know in what is the most wonderful human relationship, the relationship of a husband and wife, they are together all the time. They work together, sleep together, do all things together, and it doesn’t always happen, and the great power of Marriage Encounter is that most people do the 10 in 10. They structure in their lives each day to spend 10 minutes writing to each other, and then 10 minutes really sharing deeply so that the relationship keeps growing as a full human relationship in Christ. And the same with our relationship with God. Sure, there is spontaneity in it, but we do need things that we can be helped by things in order to keep that relationship really alive. So that’s what we’ll be looking at a bit.

We will be looking at treasures from our own Christian tradition. Other traditions have a great deal to offer, and some people have been pioneering, bringing that back for us, but I tend to stay in our own Christian tradition and try to bring that over to them. The tradition we are going to share has been summed up as, or spoken of, as lectio, or sometimes lectio divina. We tend to leave that in Latin because you translate it as "divine reading," but also whenever you say "lectio" we are talking about a whole process. And the process is in four words: "lectio," "meditatio," "oratio" and "contemplatio," and I suspect you can readily guess the meaning of the last word, contemplation. In a sense that is what we are looking for, and in another sense it isn’t, and this is very, very important. We don’t seek to become good pray-ers. We don’t seek to become contemplatives. We don’t seek to learn a method. We seek God. We use these things only as a way to help us. Enter deeper. Enter inward. The false self always likes to think of projects, to build on itself. I want to get us into this, and then practice this so you will have a chance to experience this in the short time we have to get together, and then we will work back into these other things.

The word "contemplatio," contemplation, etymologically has three sections to it. "Tion" means abiding state. All of us have those, if we are alive, wonderful moments when suddenly God touches us, and we experience him and so on. What we are looking for is a way that will help us to begin to live more and more constantly in that wonderful communion with God. And that’s what "con" is about. Con means with. And "templa." Well, in the early Roman times the templa was a particular segment of the heavens, and the priests of the temple, the priests of the people, would try to revive that and try to see how the birds flew, and so on, and from that come to know the will of God, the presence of God. Now that time, that templa, got projected on earth and became the templum, the temple, a place we went to commune with God. So contemplation is abiding with God where His will is known, where His love is known, where He is present in His temple.

Now, where is God? God is everywhere. But where does God dwell? Where does God make His home? History constantly repeats itself. In our own life we have seen a lot of young, and not so young masters, teachers, gurus. That has gone on throughout all the years of history. St. Basil in the 4th century. He and his friend Gregory were studying in the schools of Athens when they threw away their books and went east. They went out through Syria and Mesopotamia and so on. Lots of people did it in those days. Women did it, too. This one couple I really love. It is Millenia the Older and Millenia the Younger. It is a grandmother and her granddaughter. And I often have a picture of a woman standing, saying, not only my mother, but my daughter, too! They all went to the east to find and search. What were John and Andrew doing out east of the Jordan? They were looking. They heard there was something out there, wearing camel’s hair and chewing on grasshoppers, and they went out to John the Baptist and said, "Are you the One? Do you have the answers?" And John was a true man. He said, "Wait around. He is coming." And so they waited around, and suddenly one day as John was talking to the crowd, he looked up and said, "Look. There’s the lamb of God." And John and Andrew took off. They went running after Jesus. And as they came up behind him, Jesus turned to them – and we have here the first recorded words of Jesus to his disciples – and what were they? "What are you looking for? What do you want?" God makes us to share his happiness, and he wants to give us anything to make us happy. So what do you want, he asks. What are you looking for? John is a pretty smart kid, and so John, he wouldn’t settle for anything less than the whole deal, said, "Where do you live? I’m moving in." (everyone laughs) And Jesus said, "Come and see." And I am willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that John and Andrew thought they were going to be led off to a nice little cottage and settle down and spend days with the master, and of course they learned that those foxes have their dens, and the birds of the air their nests, but the Son of Man who nowhere to lay His head. But they followed Him. They followed Him day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out, and finally, the night before He died, Jesus answered John’s question. It is time for a word from our sponsor…

Jesus said this to them: "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him. Those who do not love me do not keep my words. And my word is not my own: it is the word of the one who sent me. I have said these things to you while still with you; but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you. Peace I bequeath to you, my own peace I give you, a peace the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid." (John 14:23-27)

A very special word John used when he asked, "Where do you dwell?" The next time we find that in this Gospel is here, and it means, "Where does one make his home in intimacy?" God is everywhere, but where does He dwell in intimate love? In you. In me. And he is always there. He is always at home. The problem is that most of the time we are out to lunch. (laughs) This prayer could be called in a way the prayer of coming home, coming home to dwell in intimacy and quiet love with the Lord. This little method which today is called centering prayer, and that name was inspired somewhat by Thomas Merton, and originally would have more traditionally been the prayer of the heart, or the prayer in the heart, or the prayer of presence, the prayer of simple regard, the prayer of quiet. It had many names throughout history. It goes back, again, to a young man who was out seeking, a young Dalmatian, John Cassian. John was studying in Rome, and he realized that what he was looking for was not there in the books, so he went off seeking. First he went to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia and so on, came to Bethlehem, joined a community there. It still wasn’t enough. He got permission from his abbot and spent seven more years seeking through Arabia, he came back and still he was unsatisfied. And so again he had permission to go forth with another monk, little Herman, and the two of them went out into the deserts of Egypt in search of a man who was reputed to be the holiest, oldest, wisest father of the desert, Abba Isaac.

One night they finally found him. The two of them sat down and said, "Father, speak to us about prayer. Give us a word of life." And Abba Isaac gave them a beautiful conference on prayer. And the two of them kind of floated back to their little cell that night, all lifted up. The next morning, though, when their feet were back on the sand, little Herman turned to John and said, "It’s beautiful, yes, but how do you do it? How do you do this kind of prayer?" And so they picked up their skirts and went running back to Abba Isaac. They asked, "Father, how do you enter into this kind of prayer?" And old Abba Isaac said to them, "Aha. I see you are a true seeker, so I will teach you what I learned from the holiest and oldest and wisest of the desert when I was a young man."

So it was an oral tradition that goes back perhaps even to the time of Jesus, because John tells us that if everything that Jesus taught was written down in the Gospels, that all the books of the world couldn’t hold it. It was certainly a very early Christian tradition. And after John learned this way of prayer he didn’t go back to the monastery in Jerusalem. He went to Constantinople, he was ordained a priest, and then he came back to the west, and he started two communities, one for women and one for men near the city of Marseille. For these men and women he wrote out as best he could remember the conferences he had learned. And it is in the second conference of Abba Isaac that we first find this teaching written out in the west.

A century or so later a great monk by the name of Benedict de Nursia wrote a rule for monasteries, and in the last chapter of his rule he said, "Do you really want to learn how to pray? Go to John Cassian." And so the nuns and monks always went to John Cassian, and taught that and shared that through the centuries. And in the years before the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution when so many of the monasteries were lost, there were many lay monks who would be out working among the people, the sheep runs, the agriculture, the fairs, the shipping, and as they worked about among the people and were talking they would teach them the simple way of prayer. Many of the spiritual writers wrote treatises about it. Perhaps one of the most famous of the early English is that of The Cloud of Unknowing. So this practice, this way of prayer, which has constantly been the early tradition among the monasteries, and it was Pope Paul VI who was the real architect of the renewal in the church, urged us to try to help people to refind this tradition. And so we began to try to share it more widely, and it was then that it was taken up in the writings of Thomas Merton with the name centering prayer, which is a good name for it. Of course in the Bible when it speaks of the heart, it doesn’t mean the cardiac organ in here, it means the deepest place within us, the source of life and love and being. It was Merton who thought, well, let’s better express it for today by saying the center. So we have tried to take the teaching that Abba Isaac gave to John Cassian and has been handed down through all these centuries by the spiritual fathers, and to make it available in a very simple, direct way. What I want to do this evening is just simply present this very simple method of centering prayer, and then we will pray that way a bit, and then we will have some time for questions and sharing instruction. By that time it will probably be 9:15.

All things come in three. I want to start with a prologue, and that would be about the posture of prayer. Our eastern brothers and sisters have some really wonderful postures for prayer, the lotus, the half-lotus, and if you can do them, that’s fine, but I’m afraid for most of us it’s too late. (laugh) There was a wise and kind father who wrote this for his spiritual son, a young man who was 24 years old, a lawyer, who told him very simply, "Just sit quietly." For the most of us, that’s the best posture for prayer. Find a decent chair and just sit quietly. There are two things I would just recommend. 1. Find a good chair that will give your back good support. God made those back bones that they work very well. They fit into one another, and when they are all lined up, the energy is freed, it flows up and down the spine. That’s very invigorating. When we are slouched, we may think we are relaxed because the muscles are relaxed, but we could well be putting pressure on the spinal system and then causing it even more tension. So sit with the back well supported so the energies can flow free. The other thing is to close the eyes gently. It requires a great deal of psychic energy to see. As soon as you close your eyes you find that out. Jesus said, "Come to me all who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you." Prayer is supposed to be a refreshing experience. Jesus was a good Jew, and so when he said, "you, I will refresh you," he meant all of you, body, mind and spirit, the whole of who you are. So prayer should refresh you physically, and it will be. So take a moment just to get settled comfortably, and close your eyes. In a way the chair kind of takes the body a second to kind of rest the body, it takes the spirit a moment to rest in God. That’s all I’ll say about posture.

The first point I may have kind of elaborated slowly so we could say it as precisely as we could what were the most relevant things to be said. So the first is to be in faith and love to God who dwells in the center of our being. It is a prayer of being, to be, not a prayer of saying, thinking, feeling, imaging. In this prayer we don’t give God our thoughts or ideas or words or aspirations. We give God ourselves. It is a prayer of being. Simply he is there for us in faith. Faith is one little gift God has given us by which we can stand in the truth because he has given it. "The Father and I will come and we will dwell in you." And in faith I say the Father and Jesus will come, and they will dwell in me. I stand in the same affirmation simply and only because he said it. He will never deceive, and He will never be deceived. Faith is that gift by which we can stand in the truth that Jesus has spoken…

And that’s the whole of the prayer, but in order to be able to rest there, to remain quiet, we use the word of love, a prayer word, to remain present to the Lord. Among our eastern visiting Christian brothers and sisters, in their tradition they always chose the word "Jesus" and so the prayer came to be called the Jesus prayer among them, but for us in the west there always remained a certain flexibility there. As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing says to his disciples, "Choose a word, a simple word. A single syllable word is best, but choose a word that is meaningful to you." And the meaning of it is just being completely with God in love. It may be Jesus, it may be Lord, it may be love, father, mind, whatever. The word’s not important. The purpose of the word is just to help us to remain quietly with the Lord, to be all there for Him.

Now, of course, what happens as you get all settled down quietly in the prayer, present to the Lord, all of a sudden you find yourself thinking, "What’s for supper tonight?" "I wonder what time we’ll get out tonight." All those things I have to do tomorrow. "I wonder if I turned the lights off on the car." A million other things, and we hear somebody talking outside, and so on, and so we need a third thing to help us.

And the third point is this. When we share in the prayer, people usually take about 20 minutes to pray.. We have found in sharing the prayer that 20 minutes is usually a good expanse for most people: time to quiet down, get rid of some of the tensions, and to rest in the Lord. If you have done it a while you may decide that for you a longer or shorter period may be better. Fine. Once you have had some experience, you are in a position to make that judgment. But in the beginning we suggest 20 minutes. If during the time of the prayer we become aware of anything else, and I am underlining that word "aware," when we become aware of anything, we simply, very carefully, return to the Lord with the use of our prayer word. I underline "aware" because I know that if you have ever had the temptation, like I have various times, "You know, if I was God, things would be a little different around here," and one of the things I used to think was, "If I was God, I would have put in some turn-off switches." He has given each of us a magnificent computer, the best computer in the world, a computer that makes all the other computers. Oh, it’s a fantastic computer. It turns out thoughts and images and ideas and colors and songs, and it never turns off. It goes and goes. And so no matter, you are going to have thoughts and ideas and images spieling out there. Always. No turn-off switch. But what you do during the prayer, see, you just let all that go. Just as if you had a computer in the corner of your office just churning out stuff, and you are talking to somebody, you just let it go, let it do its thing. So we just let all those thoughts and images and ideas spin along as we rest quietly in the Lord. But every once in a while the computer makes a funny sound, or noise, and you say, "What’s it doing now?" Once in a while some thought, some idea, catches you and takes us away, and we become aware, and that’s the moment of choice. We choose to gently go back to the Lord with our prayer word. All the thoughts and images go on, and off they go. Some days we have to use that prayer word constantly. That computer is doing all sorts of things. And other days you don’t have to use it much at all. But whenever we become aware of anything, simply, gently with our prayer word return to the Lord. So that’s the method. It is as simple as that. Now I’ll add something. At the end of the prayer you want to come out very gently, and so I suggest that instead of just finishing the prayer, you let the Our Father sort of quietly pray itself for you, with each phrase, each word, and you will come to see more and more that the Our Father wasn’t just a formula. It is a whole school of life through which the Lord teaches us many, many things, the things He has been intimating to us in the deep silence. You might want to use another prayer, perhaps a psalm, a hymn, but take some time to gently get back into the sensual and affective prayer and back into life. That’s the method.

I suggest you stand up for a second and stretch. Look at the little pamphlet. 1. Sit relaxed and quiet. 2. Be in faith and love with God who dwells in the center of your being. 3. Take up a prayer word and be gently present to God in faith and love. 4. Whenever you become aware of anything else, simply, gently return to the Lord with your prayer word.

As we do this together in a group usually the leader who will articulate the act of faith and love in the beginning, and then say the Our Father aloud at the end, but you just follow interiorly and silently at your own pace. So sit now and get as comfortable as you can.

I would like to invite you now for four minutes to share with the person next to you your experience of the prayer. Just kind of pair off.

OK. I would like to open the floor now if anyone has anything to share, or any questions on the prayer. Nobody ever wants to ask the first question, so who is going to ask the second one?

Question: How do you know this prayer is going deeper and deeper?

Answer: You don’t. You don’t care whether you go deeper and deeper. All you want is love. God wants you. What happens happens. What we are trying to do in this prayer is to fill the first commandment. The first commandment is we are to love the Lord our God with our whole mind, our whole heart, our whole soul. Just be all there for God. And most of the time we are not all there. Part of us is there, and part of us is over here watching, keeping score. You know, on Judgment Day God is not going to have to have a prosecuting attorney. We will be able to tell him exactly all the things we ever did. We keep such an eye on ourselves… But let God do what He wants. So you cannot know what is going on in this prayer. The only thing you can know after the prayer is the times you pulled out of the prayer. And that is no way of judging the prayer. Because the Lord is cleaning house, all sorts of stuff is coming up, and you have to use your prayer word quite frequently. On other days you will just rest. He will do whatever He knows is best for you each day. You just give yourself to Him. You don’t care whether it is wet or dry, deep or high, low or thick or thin or whatever. You be there for Him and let Him do what He wants. Very simple, very pure.

The only way you can judge this prayer is the way the Lord says you judge things. You judge a tree by its fruit. So it is the effects in your life. And as you practice the prayer, those fruits grow, and usually others notice it before you do.

There is an old story. I was teaching the prayer at the monastery one weekend with a group of men, and I always say to the people, "Now be really good to yourself. Give yourself 20 minutes twice a day just to be refreshed by the Lord in love." There was this one fellow there, Joe, who piped up and said, "Father, are you kidding? I’ve got a five-ring circus home. How am I going to be able to sit down for 20 minutes twice a day in bliss?" So in my usual gentle, simple, loving way, I said, "Joe, where there is a will, there is a way. You make time to eat. You make time to sleep. Far more important that you rest your spirit, feed your spirit. Make the time." So when Joe came back six months later I wasn’t slow to corner him. I said, "Joe, did you?" And he said, "Yeah, yeah." In the morning he started going to work 20 minutes early, and sat at his desk and got his first 20 minutes there before anything started happening in the office. And that worked for him fine. And in the evening when he came home he always went in to wash up. So when he came home to wash up he then sat in the tub for 20 minutes and meditated in the wash room. And nobody seemed to be noticing that he was taking extra time. However, after he had been doing it about three weeks, one evening as he came out of the wash room his wife was standing there, and she said to him, "Joe, what’s going on downtown? You come home these days and you are so happy and so peaceful and joyful and everything, what’s going on down there?" So Joe, of course, had to own up to her pretty quick of what was going on, and so her response was, "Well, if you can meditate for 20 minutes before supper, I can meditate for 20 minutes before supper." So now, after I finish meditating for 20 minutes, she meditates for 20 minutes, and I have to finish supper every night. But the point of the story was after those three weeks his wife saw a big difference. He was leaving all those tensions and all that stuff in the office in the bathtub there, and being free to enjoy his family. So the fruits are there, the love, the joy, the peace, the kindness, etc. That’s the way to judge the prayer, and not whether it is deeper or wetter, or whatever.

Question: If we find ourselves at the beginning of our 20 minutes in discursive prayer or petitions and so on should we get all that out of the way before we go to center?

Answer: If you have the time and it works well for you, by all means do it, but the thing is it is important that if you make a decision to enter into this kind of prayer, the Lord can do what He wants, but you are saying, "Lord, I want you to do this, that and the other." Also, to realize in regards to petitionary prayer, God doesn’t listen to our lips. He listens to our hearts. If you ask me to pray for you and I rattle off a couple of Our Fathers, fine, but if I place you deep in my heart, every time I go to prayer, the Lord sees you in my heart, sees my loving concern about you, what’s He going to do? He’ll take wonderful care of you. I often marvel at the wonderful way God takes care of our families. For some we do a lot of specific praying for them, but they are in our hearts and He sees that. He is our friend and He takes care of us. So we don’t really have to articulate all these things. Did you ever notice in the Gospels the two great women of prayer? Mary the mother of Jesus who obtained His first miracle. And Mary of Bethany who obtained His greatest miracle, the resurrection of Lazarus after four days dead in the tomb. Neither of them asked for this. They were simply before the Lord with their concern. They have no wine. He whom you love is sick. And He just did the rest. So turn it over to Him. Trust in His love.

A few years ago a man came to share with me his experience, and he had been centering at that time about 35 years. He told me when he first began to practice centering prayer, his prayer word was Jesus. Jesus was the whole center and being of his life. But after he had been praying about 12 years this way, he realized it was time for his prayer word to change, and it became for him Father. He had become so one with Jesus that it was now Father. The reason he came to see me was because about six weeks before, he had that kind of experience again. This time the word that came to him was Pa, and he was just so overwhelmed by the intimacy that God was calling him to in this very simple colloquial way that every time he sat down to pray he started crying. So sometimes our prayer word will move along. But don’t make much of the prayer word. The prayer word is just a simple thing, just a little arrow towards God. You want God, not the word.

The question was, suppose you try a lot of things as best you can, but you are not able to sit still for 20 minutes – that’s a very good indication of how badly you need meditation. (laugh) We have been cramming into ourselves all sorts of stuff for years and years, and the whole frenetic world we are in does, and that’s building up, and that is of course, cancer, heart disease, hypertension and all these things, I don’t know how anybody can possibly survive in our world today without meditation, without regular periods of unloading this, and if you find you can’t even sit quietly in a chair for 20 minutes, you need to say, "Boy, I really need this, to get rid of all this tension that is in my body." You have completely lost control. My body is in control. So it is a very good sign of how much we need this. People say, "Oh, I get thoughts and thoughts all the time. I can’t pray that way." You need that prayer, and those thoughts and thoughts are part of what God is doing in that prayer, see? We are letting Him do what He knows we need, and we need to unload all that junk.

Years ago a musical opened on Broadway called "The Sound of Music," and the Baroness von Trapp had come back from the lay missionary in Fijis, and she came up to the monastery to sing the songs first because we never get down to Broadway, and I remember a line from one of the songs which struck me very strongly. "A bell is not a bell until it is rung, and a song is not a song until it is sung, and love is not love until it is given away." Love is a give-away, just give. It is not going to give to gain anything for ourselves. We are just giving ourselves. Not to just prayers. I just sit there and say, "I’ll just sit here for 20 minutes. I’m all yours. Just do whatever you want." If He wants me to just sit there like a bump on a log, well, how often have you left Him sitting like a bump on a log? If He wants to take you to seventh heaven, go on. And if He wants to bring up all this junk and clean house, great. He will do whatever is best for you right now because He loves you so much, and you know that. You are so in love you just give yourself to Him and let Him do what He wants.

We had a monk, Fr. Owen, in the monastery, who went to heaven last September. He entered the monastery before I was born, and one summer a few years ago I had to go away, and we like to keep somebody available at the monastery to teach meditation because people come up and knock on the door and say will you teach me how to meditate? I looked around and Fr. Owen seemed to be the only one available, and so I went to Father and said, "Would you be willing to share the centering prayer with people when they come during those first two weeks of August?" He said, "Oh, sure, sure, but you better go over it with me to be sure I have it down right." So I went over it with him, and he said, "I’ll meditate for 20 minutes twice a day, and I’ll see you at the end of the week." So at the end of the week I met with him and I said, "How’s it going, Father?" And he said, "Oh, I think it’s fine. I just have one question. That third point. Whenever you become aware of anything, simply use your prayer word… even if you have a vision?" (laughs)

In the evening take 20 minutes and meditate by yourself, or if you are here as a couple, do it together. And in the morning, after you are exercised and showered, do your centering again so you have a couple of experiences of centering on your own. Then when we come back together tomorrow, we will center as a group and we will have more time for any questions or any issues that come up that you would like to look at. As you get more prayer experience, you get more of a sense about the prayer.



The next day

Jesus said, "And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites. They love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogue, at the street corners, for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. In your prayers do not babble as the pagans do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. So you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be held holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive those who are in debt to us. Do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one."

When we listen to the word of the Lord, we kind of listen with more than one ear. The Fathers tell us that there are levels of meaning there. St. Paul made that clear himself. Remember in the Epistle that Abraham had two wives, Hagar and Sarah, and these are the two covenants, the old covenant of the law and the new covenant of love. Then he goes on to develop that. In another place he speaks about that rock that followed the people for 40 years through the desert in which they obtained all the water they needed, and he said this rock is Christ. He is with us, constantly nurturing us with His grace. So Scripture has this first level of meaning, the historical, the literal meaning, and then it has these deeper spiritual meanings where the Lord speaks to us more immediately where we are right now. And so this morning when the Lord says to pray, to go into your room and close the door and pray to the Father in secret, literally it means that you don’t parade your prayer, and you find a good place to pray and so on, but the deeper meaning is to go into your private room, your place within, the kingdom of God that is within. Close the door. Let all the other stuff go. Pray to your Father in that secret place, and He will be there for you. He will reward you. Don’t be like the hypocrites. Lots of words. Often we think we can talk God into something if we keep talking about it. There is a place for that in a way. In one way He is kind of all-comprehensive, and in another place He says to be like a pesty old widow who keeps after the judge and pulling his sleeve until finally he gives what she wants. As Abba Isaac said to John Cassian, "We should be content with the poverty of a single, simple word, but a word that expresses all that we are. It is not the words that matter. It is the intention of the heart, the fullness of our being."

So let’s take a few minutes now to go to that secret place and be with our Lord.

This fellow was at a centering prayer workshop. He was a very simple man, hadn’t graduated from high school, was a factory worker, had gotten married very young and had 17 grandchildren already in his 40s. We encouraged him to get groups going, so Dan went home and spoke to his pastor and said, "This Trappist said I should share this Christian meditation." So the pastor said, "Well, all right. If you want to, well, next Sunday we will put a little announcement in the bulletin that Dan would be in the auditorium at 2:30. If anyone wants to learn Christian meditation, they can." So next Sunday it was in the bulletin, and Dan arrives at the auditorium at 2:30 and there are 450 people there! So he gets up on the stage and just goes ahead, and gives them the three points to meditate. Then he had a group meeting every night of the week at the parish. I warned him not to get too involved because of his wife and children, so I got them involved, too. They take different nights. After 4 weeks he is invited to the neighboring parish, and then another parish. Then the bishop invited him down to the Chancery and the deacons. Then the retreat house invited him, and he did some there, and a sister there was doing some Christian yoga, so he learned a few of these stretches and stands, and then he offered to do it in a high school because he is very interested in children, and started teaching meditation in the high school, having the kids do some stretches and so forth. He called me a while ago. He was now doing it at the YMCA, and they wanted him to write a manual for all the Ys in the country. He was down at the halfway house on Union St. and says it is a little difficult at times to be sitting there and meditating, and suddenly someone would go off, and bottles would go through the air. The last time he came he brought the chief of police. He was a big black man, and the chief now wanted to make it mandatory that every rookie had to learn to center before he started on his beat so he would be nice and peaceful. So you just go out and spread the seeds, and share it wherever you can with people in your own household, or a friend, or a little group in the office. Most groups meet and they usually try to bring new people and keep sharing, and the whole group centers for 20 minutes, and then there is time for questions, then maybe read a little bit out of one of the books or tapes to deepen their understanding of it, and then a little lectio at the end from next Sunday’s Gospel, or something. Then a little socializing. But each group finds it own way, its place, its times. Some work groups just sit down at the end of the day for 20 minutes before they go home.

But it is the Lord who teaches us how to pray. St. Paul says we don’t know how to pray as we ought, but the Holy Spirit teaches us. What we really do is just open up the space, and the Lord does it. We don’t have to be experts.

I’d like to speak a little bit about the fruit of the prayer, the fruit which Thomas Merton wrote so much about, and that is the transformation of consciousness. To change the form of the way we are conscious of things, the way we receive, it is a whole attitude towards ourselves and everyone else. We all have moments of heightened consciousness. Most of the time we are very much in thoughts and ideas and concepts and so on. There are all these ideas and concepts and images and so on, and these are two or three steps from reality, abstracted from reality, and we begin to see reality through them. A tree is a tree is a tree. It is just a tree. But say you step out the door one fresh spring morning, and there’s a dagwood tree in full bloom. Suddenly a tree is a tree. This is an experience. This thing is real. And it sort of breaks open your concepts and ideas, and you are with reality. You really touch what is.

And that’s another kind of consciousness which we have at times. But that’s the level of consciousness we would like to be in all the time. Really in touch with reality. In touch with what is. Unfortunately, what happens is we take this experience and simply transfer it over here to memory, and then it is just as dead as the rest. A concept. A prime example of that is a novice. A novice was praying one day and he has this wonderful experience of God. He is all lifted up. So the next day he is at the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing, looking for the same experience, and you know what happens? Nothing. He is so caught up in this memory, there is no room for the present reality.

You find this happening in marriages. They are so caught up in the memory of, oh, wasn’t it wonderful on our honeymoon, that they miss the reality of each other now, the wondrous beauty of this person as he or she is right now.

This is a great problem of preaching. I have a friend, he is a bit caustic, and he says, "You know what you priests are like? You are like somebody who takes you to a wonderful restaurant, and they give you this nice menu, and you read about all these wonderful dishes and everything, and then, instead of serving one of those dishes so you could really enjoy it, you cut up the menu and feed us the menu." All the memories, the concepts, the ideas, instead of the reality. So you want to be in this domain where things are. In a higher level of consciousness. And it has to begin with ourselves because we come to have a false self, a false sense of ourselves which colors the way we sense and experience everybody and everything else.

So let’s look at the false self. When we are first brought into this world, we are just a bundle of absolute need. We need everything – food, clothes, nurture, all sorts of things, and we yell at the top of our lungs until we get it. That’s our first experience – that we need everything. It is really what original sin is. As our consciousness begins to expand a bit, we become aware of the persons who respond to those needs. These persons become very important to us. We identify with them. We become one with them. Through them we become aware of the importance of the things we do. The parents say, "Mummy won’t love you if you don’t eat your spaghetti." "Daddy won’t love you if you don’t get a gold star in kindergarten." What happens is the child begins to get the message that they have to work on themselves. Their work is on what they do, the way they perform, and this is something the parents should be very conscious of because parents’ love is initially the most perfect sacrament of divine love. It is purely gratuitous. The child does nothing to earn the parents’ love when he comes into this world. And that’s the way it should always be, an affirmation of the complete lovableness of the child. But the parents kind of play off that to try to get the child to perform, and it then begins to convey to the child a completely other message, and of course the peers around them do the same thing. You are worth what you do, what you have, and not what you are. And so we all develop this false self made up of what I do, what I have, what other people think of me. And if you can look at any time that you are unhappy, look and see which of those three it is. I don’t have something I want. I can’t do something I want. Or I worry about what other people think of me. That’s the false self. And it is very fragile, extremely fragile, and therefore it needs to be very defensive. For example, this is how people introduce themselves: I am Joe Jones. I work at Sperry’s. I’m Phil Green. I teach at the University. Their identity is in what they do. Women tend to identify more with things, their clothing and their jewelry, and so on. But today, Mary Jones might be President Mary, and Joe Jones might be wearing earrings. (everyone laughs)

This very much effects our religion, too. God is a person somewhere out here in the high heavens. I remember when I was a boy in Wichita I used to go to a church, and in the sanctuary there was a window with a triangle with a great big eye in it. I grew up with that. So God is a person out there, and we’ve got to do the right things so we get the eternal goods. This is why Catholics have a hard time with renewal. Before all you had to do was go to Mass on Sunday and not eat meat on Friday, and you had it made with God. Nice and simple. Now you can eat steak on Friday and not necessarily go to Mass every Sunday, but you have to think about social justice, taking care of the poor, work for equality. How do you have it made with God any more? With a personal relationship. But the false self colors our whole attitude to everything. It almost makes it impossible for us to really be to others, and to let the reality come in. How do we get away from this? This is the self that Jesus said would have to die, this false self. And if we don’t know our true self, it is very hard, it is impossible to die to. You’ve got to let go. And the reality on this is the thing that we are taught in centering prayer, is that we are not this small little empty thing that has nothing of itself, but rather the center, the heart, the core of our being is God, Himself. If God is infinite creative love bringing us forth at every moment, and we get in touch with that, that God is here, this God who loves me, then what? Then I have everything. I can do all things. Just ask and you shall receive. So tremendous freedom comes, freedom from this false self. Then we are free to create the kind of relationships we want, and do the things we really want. This is what comes about through centering prayer as we come to know our true self in God. The only way we get to see ourselves is to see ourselves reflected back in the eyes of someone who really loves us. But no one can love us enough, reflect back the fullness of our beauty except God. We are the very image of God, made in His likeness. In centering what we are doing is we are looking into the eyes of God, and discovering there not only this tremendous love, but discovering our true selves. The freedom of that, the empowerment of that. And as we work at it, the whole is transformed. There is a whole new consciousness because we find in the center that there is only one center, it is the center of God. And we find everyone else there. We come to know the beauty of every other person. And it is transforming all our relationships. It is so empowering in our ministry. We see the tremendous beauty of every man, woman and child, and in the whole of creation, which is constantly coming forth from God’s creative love. Now, this doesn’t happen the first time you sit down to center, obviously. We have been building up this false self for how many years? It is such a gradual process of transformation. This is one of the reasons why we encourage people very much to center twice a day rather than just once a day because we found that when a person centers twice a day, this transformation takes place much, much more rapidly rather than just do it once a day. When we go to center we just want to speak to God, but what God wants to do is call us to Him, and the more we open the space for Him to do that, the more He will do it more rapidly and more completely. So this is the fruit of centering prayer, this transformation of consciousness.

The question is, if someone’s concept of God is a punishing God – you wouldn’t want to be with Him – how do you open the way to centering prayer? I say two things. One is the approach taken by the 12-step program where they speak of a higher power, and they leave it kind of generic. A person can subjectively find their own way in. Centering prayer is used very widely now as the 11th step in the 12-step program, which is meditation. The other day I was in New York, standing by St. Francis’ church on 31st street, and this guy came shuffling up to me – he looked like a pretty seedy character, actually – so I started fishing in my pocket trying to find a dollar bill for him or something, and he sort of sidled up to me and said, "Are you Basil, Basil Pennington?" (There goes $5!) (everyone laughs) And he pulls out of his pocket a very valuable copy of centering prayer, and kind of waves it in front of me, and said, "This is great. We all use it for the 11th step." And he shuffles away.

I had a beautiful experience once. I was teaching centering prayer down at a very large retreat house in New Orleans, Notre Dame, and I was dealing with the faculty of the seminary and the bishop and the chancery there on one side, and at the same time the seminarians were having their annual retreat on the other side. The good Jesuit was putting them through the exercises, and the guys were kind of looking over with envious eyes. On the third day a little delegation came over, and said, "Tomorrow while the father is taking his siesta, could you come over and tell us what is going on over here?" So the next day after lunch I went down to the lounge. The seminarians were there and I gave them the three points, and we centered, and as we came out of the prayer I usually look around to see how people are doing. This one fellow had these tears streaming down his cheeks. I thought, "Oh, Lord, what has happened here?" So I asked him his name, and he said his name was Joe. I said, "Are you all right?" He said, "Oh, yes, while I was centering it came up to my mind something that had happened between me and my father when I was three years old. I haven’t thought of it in years, but I haven’t spoken to my father for seven years. This thing came up, and I let it go, and all that anger went with it. I can’t wait to go home and throw my arms around my father and tell him how much I love him." There was a beautiful release there. It is usually not quite that dramatic. Little by little stuff comes up.

We can take a break now.

These packets from Food for the Poor, these are a fruit of centering prayer. It is a very interesting story. There was a Lebanese couple who came as immigrants to Jamaica, big, religious people, and they were soon one of the wealthiest families on the island. They had four sons. On top of that, the oldest son, Ferdinand, was sort of the head of the family – actually, the mother ran everything – in fact, at the time the former governor of Jamaica was her former secretary, and the prime minister grew up in her home with her boys, so she kind of ran the country for a while. When there was the fear that communism would take over, she sent two of her boys off to Florida to become citizens and start a business there. Well, while her oldest son, Ferdy, was on a plane flight he read this book and it touched him very deeply since he hadn’t been keeping up too well in his faith, so he went over to his parish priest and asked him how could he really get closer to God? So his pastor said, "I’ll show you. Sit down." So Ferdy teaches centering to his mother and three brothers, and they started centering together. They began to realize, then, that as a wealthy family they had a responsibility to the poor in Jamaica, and they began reaching out to the poor. And they started reaching out to the poor in Haiti where you have the poorest of the poor, and finally they decided to create Food for the Poor. Ferdy is the actual head of the family corporation, but actually devotes his full time – his brothers still pay him his present salary – to work for the poor, and they use their home, their company, and all its shipping ability to bring something of the surplus in America down to these poor people on the islands. In Ferdy’s mind there are two kinds of poverty they want to respond to. One is the material poverty, which is so intense there in the Caribbean, but the other is a spiritual poverty in which they, themselves, had lived, so they do anything they can to promote centering prayer. So that’s why they print up these flyers and so on, which has a list of books and tapes and things which they make available. If you can’t afford them, they give them for free. If you can afford them, the money goes to the poor, so use them freely in your own sharing. And Mr. and Mrs. ___ are very happy to teach centering prayer in any parish or group, so if you want them to come to your parish, and I think it is very effective when you have a married couple bringing this to a parish, they have a set of three videos there where the two of them and myself are in their living room and share centering prayer. They, themselves, have become real ministers in this way.

Are there any questions?

As we see, centering prayer begins with faith. We cannot love what we do not know. As St. Paul says, "The just person lives by faith." So we want to constantly grow in faith. Let’s talk a little bit about faith building. Faith, St. Paul tells us, comes through hearing. We have the ability to grow in the virtue of faith, which is given to us by God. Next comes receiving the word and responding to it. It builds up just like any muscle through use. How do we grow by faith? It is by hearing the word of God. The first place where we hear the word of God, the most powerful, is when we come together as a Christian community at the Eucharist, at the liturgy. We come together and hear the words, and there is a powerful presence of Christ. The proclamation of the word.

I was at the Second Vatican Council, and it was a tremendous experience. One moment that stands out very strongly in my mind was in the course of the first session a bishop stood up – he wasn’t one of the leaders or anything – a very simple man, he made a statement which was put into the constitution of the liturgy. He said, "When the Gospel is proclaimed at the liturgy, Jesus Christ proclaims His goodness." So the Lord is really there to speak to us. Now you will notice how that is brought out in the liturgy. When it comes time for the Gospel, we all stand up. It is a special moment, a moment of special presence. Then the priest or the deacon stands up, and says, "The Lord be with you." And what do you answer? "And with you." And then he says, "The Gospel according to Matthew." And what do you say? "Glory to you, Oh Lord." The priest or the deacon has disappeared, and the Lord is there. At the end of the Gospel, what do we say? "Thanks to you, Lord Jesus Christ." Jesus Christ is there. It is really the Lord. It is a powerful moment for the community. It is the role of the priest to open that out in a homily, and he takes time to reflect, to draw deeply, to take that word into ourselves, to carry it with us, the word of life.

Another place where we can certainly see the word and help grow, and that would be in faith sharing. When we speak the word to each other. Each one of us has been baptized into Christ. Each one of us in a very real sense is a Christ presence, and we can speak the word to each other, share the word that we have received. That’s very important, and perhaps we are much too shy with that.

Whenever I talk to a telephone operator, I always say, "God bless you now." I get all sorts of responses to it. (laughs) But it is fun. But to share the reality that is living within us in any way you can, to be that gift of faith.

Another way we can work at faith building in us is by way of sacred reading. Not just a printed word. It could be a picture, it could be a mosaic, the icon, stained glass and so on. We are receiving the word. There are three kinds of sacred reading that we need to do. We need sacred study. This is geared to the intellect, to knowing. It is fulfilling the first commandment. To use our mind to the full to get to know God. We always need to try to understand more. Faith seeking understanding. We are supposed to live by faith, but in our society most people get so many years in school, and oftentimes their faith education ended with First Communion or Confirmation. How can it then in a living way inform? So we have to keep growing. We have to keep on studying. The Lord is constantly speaking to His people. One of the great affirmations of the Second Vatican Council was the development of doctrine. The spirit is alive, and is being made more and more fully present all the time. Let the spirit speak to us for today. So we often need to program into our lives some regular period of study – perhaps an hour or two a week. Oftentimes the Catholic newspaper has not only information and news, but also some doctrinal teaching. Or a good Catholic magazine, like Theology Digest. We need to keep moving ahead. Studying the encyclicals from the holy fathers.

But it doesn’t do us any good to know if we don’t live it. And so we also need motivational reading. I think this is what people mean when they speak of spiritual reading. Motivational reading, which is more geared toward the will, trying to make us live what we know, to make it a living thing, to keep it alive, to help us really live what we know.

For example, if you are going to Mass regularly, and you realize the Mass doesn’t have the meaning for you it should have. Well, go out and get a good book on the Mass, and you read that, and it helps you understand it. They say the best way to learn is to teach. The best way to read is to write. We need that so we are alive as Christians.

Then there is the reading that we talked about at the beginning, which is lectio, lectio divina, and this kind of reading is geared toward the experience of God. In Latin it just translates into "divine reading," and that doesn’t adequately express it because certainly during many centuries of the church, and even now, many people cannot read, but they can still do lectio divina because lectio means being open to receive the word of God. Whether it is through reading, which most of us can do each day, or listening to somebody read to us, or what people more often do, calling up to memory what they have heard. Or it can be the reading of the Canticles. They began to paint the Bible stories because people couldn’t read, and they go on, and in the Middle Ages there was stained glass. The cathedral at Chartre is like a comic book. The whole Bible is there. As you walk around you can read it. In the Middle Ages people couldn’t read, but they could read the windows. The whole creation speaks of the Lord. There used to be an expression during the Second World War, if somebody said something and you really understood them, you would say, "I read you." That’s what lectio divina is. I read you. You are reading God in His expressions in whatever way they are presented.

I have a simple little method which may help you with your daily lectio, and this is abstracted from a monastic practice. The first point would be to come into the presence and to call upon the Holy Spirit. Usually our lectio would be from the scriptures, though we can certainly use any other book about the things of God. Any book that is written in faith, the Holy Spirit is there inspiring the author, and that author is alive now in God. In our lectio we can come into the presence of any of the saints as authors. A friend of mine in Boston, an old Orthodox monk, he and St. Chrysostom have become great friends, and when he and I are talking, it sounds like he and St. Chrysostom had had supper together last night. Every day he sits down with John Chrysostom and his writings, and he lets John speak to him, and they really have become great friends. Here, using the scriptures, we come into the presence. God is present in His word. Everyone should have their own Bible, and should be one of the most sacred things you possess. It is not just something we leave on the table or put in the bookshelf, but that it is enthroned in your home as a real presence. Here is the Lord. If you go to Mass at our monastery at St. Joseph’s, you will always see two lamps burning. One is burning before the tabernacle proclaiming the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and the other is burning over the Bible in the middle of choir, proclaiming the real presence of the Lord in His word. We gather around that word, listen to that word and it speak to us. We should enthrone our Bible in a place where constantly we encounter the Lord. When I was a boy they had a statue or a picture of the sacred heart, but I think the enthroning of the word is so much better. Here the Lord can really speak to you.

When I was down in southern Missouri I found a practice which I thought was kind of cool. The people down there have what they call the bed Bible, and this is a Bible which is enthroned on a pillow on their bed. And what happens is that when you go to bed you have to pick it up, of course. And so they listen to a few words of the Lord, and they will ponder on those during the night. And they place the Bible on their shoes so that when they get up in the morning they have to pick up the Bible again, and they get a few more words for the day, and they put the Bible back on their pillow. And so twice a day they are assured of having a little time for the Lord to speak to them. Practical, smart people, those people in those hills. We all have to be clever about how to weave things into our lives in a way that they work. But to keep the scriptures enthroned in our hearts in our home or office and so on, then we can go to the Lord there. Our Lord has said to us, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst." How often when He is there we pay no attention to Him. Very impolite. We just ignore Him. But if we have the Bible there we can just say, "Well, let’s just listen to the Lord for a moment. Let Him get into the conversation." The Bible is a real presence. So when we come to lectio, we take this Bible with reverence. In (an old spiritual writing, 11:39), they say, you take the sacred text, and you kneel down, you call down the Holy Spirit, and you kiss the text and listen to the first words on your knees. So there is a whole ritual there of really coming into the presence of our Lord, and letting yourself be aware of that by all that you do. And then calling upon the spirit. Of course, the Holy Spirit inspired that word, and he lives in you to teach you all things. That’s what Jesus said. He is the Paraclete. He will be there to teach you all things and to recall to mind whatever I have said. So it is the Holy Spirit that makes it the living word. So that’s what we ask him. Make this word come alive in me now. Speak, Lord, your servant wants to hear. So we come into the presence and call on the spirit.

And then we just sit there quietly and listen. It is not a question of readings. Just listen. He is there to talk to us. So listen for five minutes or ten minutes, or a period of time. The reason why I put time like that (on the blackboard) is that usually we do lectio until the next bell rings, but if you say you are going to read a paragraph or page or chapter, we are also skilled in speed reading. We are so pushed to get things done, that we push to go through. If you say that I am just going to sit here for five minutes or ten minutes with the Lord, then there is no push. And if He says something really juicy in the first word or the first sentence, why push on? We just stay quietly and let that word come alive. You always have to remember these things are instruments. They are a means to an end. The end is communion and union with God. God doesn’t want us to read a lot. He wants us to be with Him. It is the same with the breviary, the Office. He doesn’t care whether we say all those Psalms. He wants us to spend that time in union with the church in prayer. If the Lord is really speaking to us in the first words of the Psalm, or something, we don’t push that aside. We enter fully into that prayer to be with the Lord in union and communion. That’s the important thing. And so we sit down for five minutes, ten minutes, and we just be there and let Him talk to us.

And finally, the third point is at the end we take a word with us, and we thank the Lord. You know it’s pretty remarkable when you think about it that when you want to see the pastor you make an appointment, when you want to see the bishop you make an appointment, you want to see the pope you pull all sorts of strings, but you want to sit down with almighty God, you do it any time you want. Pretty good, huh? At our monastery at Spencer some neighbors have moved in in recent years. On one side we have the Buddhist Theravada meditation center, and on the other side we have a Hindu ashram, and we have wonderful relations with these folks. The reality is that more than 50% of the people who go to those places are Catholics because there are no Christian meditation centers around. We have very good contact with them, but every once in a while I become aware that the vibrations are picking up, and pretty soon we hear, Swamiji’s coming, or Achita’s coming, and they are all excited. The master is going to come, and they are going to have two or three days to be able to sit at the feet of the master, receive his words, and so on. And of course, they always want us to come over and they want to bring the master over to our place, and we have had some wonderful contact with these great men. But I always think to myself, well, it is my Master who made those masters, and I can sit at His feet any time I want. And I do. Every day. It is a wonderful thing to have a sense of the wonderful privilege that is ours to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In India at Kurishumala high in the mountains we have a little ashram there started by Fr. Francis from Belgium, and it is a community of some Christian swamis, and there is a wonderful swami there. He is now 97 years old. His story is interesting. When he was 19 – that was a few years ago – he conceived the idea of being a Christian swami. In those days nobody thought of things like that. That was really out in left field. And the way you become a swami, you receive the habit, the saffron robes, from your guru, and if you don’t have a spiritual guru your father can give it to you because he is your natural guru. So finally Swami talked his father into giving him the kavi (the robes). Next time he went to Mass he got thrown out of the church on his head. But he began living the life of a swami. What a traditional swami does in India is he spends half the year, the dry season, going around sharing the teachings of his master. And entering the wet season he goes back to his ashram and he spends his time learning more of the teachings of his master and goes more deeply into them. And so Swamiji did that. Half a year he went around sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ, his master. And for the other half he would go back and find some monastery that would take him in, and he would spend the time meditating and entering more deeply into the scriptures and so on. Well, he had been doing this for a little over 50 years, and one day he walked into our little ashram in Kurishumala, and he thought he had died and gone to heaven. There was a whole community of Christian swamis! So immediately after joining the community – he was welcomed, of course – but he continued to live his particular traditional way. Each year at the end of the dry season, as the wet season was coming in, many of the swamis get together at Pondacheri for a gathering, and he goes there each year. In India many is many – 3, 4, 5 million, or something like that. Thanks to a PA system, they were really able to share, and at the end of the sessions – they usually go about 10 days – Swamiji gets up, and he is very venerated. For over 80 years he has been a swami. He gets up there, and he always begins the same way. I have the supreme, sublime and most exalted privilege of being the disciple of the sat-guru, the guru of gurus, Jesus Christ. And he tells them about Jesus, and Jesus’ teachings. The thing that struck me so much about this man is that he knows what a privilege it is to be a disciple of Jesus. And each of us has been called to be a disciple of Jesus. You have not chosen me. I have chosen you. He has chosen each of us to be his disciple, and each day He is ready to teach us if we would but sit at His feet, and that’s what lectio is. We sit at the feet of the Lord each day to receive His word with gratitude. And as we leave lectio, we take a word with us. Some days He gives us a word, and I am sure you have all had that experience of doing a lectio on a particular day and it hits you right between the eyes. You never forget it. I can remember myself one time, it must be about 37 years ago now, and I doing my lectio and it was at the beginning of the Gospel of St. Matthew, and you know how St. Matthew’s Gospel begins: "Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob…" At first I thought, well, Lord, I know you are a good Jew, and this begot begot stuff means something, but what are you trying to say to me? And He kind of said read on… So I did. Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary, from whom was born Christ the Lord. At that moment the Lord really spoke that word to me, and I knew then as I had never known before that God really got into my flesh. We were really brothers in the flesh. Now I had heard that Gospel many times before, and I had read it many times, but on that day it really spoke to me. That’s what happens often in lectio. If you go in there with that listening. I’m afraid we go into it and think, oh, I’ve heard this all before. It’s dead. It is all memory and concepts and so on, the first circle. There is no possibility of the second circle, the reality, the experience. We go there wide open and listening. He is speaking to me now. The words may be the same, but it is a totally different experience because where I am now is totally different from where I was yesterday. We are also aware of where He is now in His relationship with me. It is a powerful communication of love. I’m there and He speaks to me. Some days He really gives us a word and we take it with us. Other days you read and read, and it seems like somebody went out to lunch. Nothing’s happening. Those are the days you have to choose a word, a phrase, a sentence, something from our lectio, we choose it as a little nugget and carry it with us through the day, and this is what that meditatio is, we carry that word, we bring it to mind and work with it a bit, and oftentimes what will happen is that at some other time of the day it will suddenly come alive and be a living word for us. Or, what I find, too, it is just the word for somebody else. He gave it to us for somebody else. It is just the word we need for them.

One of our early Cistercian fathers is Gericke of Igning. We have some of his sermons. I like them very much. They are very practical and down-to-earth. He had an Easter sermon there. Do you remember the scene from the Gospels where these three women went to the tomb, and when they got there it was empty, and they went down the road thinking they had missed the whole deal? Suddenly there was the Lord. So Gericke says, "Well, you know how it is, brothers. Some days you go to lectio and He is nowhere there. And you go to the Office and the chanting, and He’s not there. You even go to the tomb, or the Eucharist, and He doesn’t seem to be there. And then you are going out to work, and you are halfway down the path to the garden, and suddenly there’s the Lord." The word comes alive. I think that sermon meant a lot to me when I read it because of an experience I had had when I first entered the monastery. Back in those days we had very, very strict rules of silence, and the only ones who could speak to us were the Abbot and the Novice Master. For the first month in the monastery they left you with secular clothes. Everybody knew you were a dopey postulant who didn’t know his back from his front, and so it was about the third day I was in the monastery and I was coming back from work, and along came one of the venerable seniors, Fr. William, and he was crying. So this dopey postulant comes running up to him and asks, "Father, are you all right? Is there anything I can do for you?" Well, he had the magnanimity not to tell the dopey postulant to shut up, but he shared with me. He said, "Oh, no. Everything is fine. I was down in the greenhouse and I was puttying the windows, and as I was puttying the window, suddenly my word came alive. It just grew and grew, and I was completely enveloped with divine love, and all I could do was cry." But that happens. Just carry that word, and when we least expect it, it comes alive. And each word for each day, the word of the Lord can really come alive in us. And we will come to have the mind of Christ. This is the ground of a living faith. And this meditatio is carrying it with us until it really comes alive, and calls forth our prayer response, and the contemplation. It is by having a practical little exercise like this that it is easy enough to kind of seed it into our day.

In the blue pamphlet you will see sacred reading, and basically the little exercise of lectio is right there. You take the sacred text with reverence and call upon the spirit. And then listen to the Lord speaking to you through the text, and respond to him. At the end of the time, choose a word or phrase, and take it with you and thank the Lord for being with you and speaking to you. It is a very simple practice. You can sort of make a commitment to five minutes a day, but you can go on if you want.

One time when I was at Mt. Athos one of the monks took me out to a desert place to see an old hermit, a very holy man. He has now passed, but he was considered to be the holiest man alive in Orthodoxy at the time. He spoke to us of the need of a daily rule of life – we will talk more about that this afternoon – but he said to me, "You know, you have this little canon, and this is sort of the minimal thing you are going to do each day, but then you can always do more." So that’s the idea. Make a commitment to spend 5 minutes in lectio. It is a serious commitment, and if you don’t get it done all day, then do it before you go to bed. But on the days you have more time, more desire, then you can spend a half hour in lectio. Each day your Master speaks to you and leads you forth to a fuller and fuller life.

Let’s take five minutes to read a Gospel. At the end, I’ll call time, and we’ll take a moment to thank the Lord and choose your word, and so on. Then take a few minutes to share with your neighbor your experience of the lectio. It is a very, very simple practice. Anybody can do it. And you can see how much can come from it. Be good to yourself. Give yourself a few minutes a day to sit at the feet of your Master, and let Him speak to you. He just wants to give and give and give.

I often get into trouble when I say this, but some of the best heresies are in the old Baltimore catechism. (everyone laughs) One question was, "Why did God make me?" And the answer to that has probably driven more people out of the church than anything else. They used to say, "God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him in the next." Here you serve. There you are happy. That kind of pie-in-the-sky god wasn’t too popular. Even as a little kid I was always trying to figure out, how can I love God and not be happy with Him? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – they were so happy! They were having constant balls. And you know, when you are very happy, what do you want to do? Share it! There was nobody there to share it, so they made you, and me. They made us to share their happiness. That’s the only reason God made us. They just want to share their happiness with us. You know, the God who made us knows us as no one else does. And He knows the greatest thing about us is our freedom because there is our power to love. God is love. He will never force us. He has profound reverence for us. So He offers. He invites. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. And if one opens, I will come in. We will sit side by side and sup together. An intimate little meal of two friends. Not even across the table, but side by side so you can come up close, like John with his head on the bosom of the Lord. He wants a deep intimacy with each one of us. But He is totally respectful. And the way we open the door is by lectio, by centering. Just open the door, give Him a chance, and bring into our lives all that love, that joy, that peace, that happiness that He wants each of us to have in the greatest possible abundance.

Imagine what it would do to a family if each day the family sat down and did lectio together for five minutes. How beautiful it would be. I was at a home recently. They had nine children, and as we finished supper the littlest fellow, Chris, who was about 5 years old went over to the sideboard and he got this big humidor and he came over. I thought, "Don’t tell me they are going to give me a cigar?!" And he opens the humidor and it is filled with rosaries, and each one picks out a rosary. And it was Maureen’s turn – she was about 13 – to lead, and the way they did the rosary was very interesting. She announced the mystery – it was the visitation – and then she talked about the visitation, what it meant to her, and after she had her bit, then the whole table started sharing it. We spent about 10 minutes talking about the visitation, and ideas about it – all the children were taking part, it was wonderful – and then we prayed that decade. And that was their rosary. The mother said to me, "I decided long ago that it is better to pray one decade well than to pray five decades," and so that was what they were doing. But it was a wonderful family lectio, with Maureen sort of providing the word as she remembered the visitation, and everybody else kind of sharing what it was saying. A family that does things like that, to have our friends, our neighbors get together and share like that, gives the Lord so much hope and space so that life can open up so wondrously. Sharing is very important. Lectio can also be a sharing.

After lunch time 2, 3 or 4 get together and do a centering together in a little group and one of you leads, so that you will have a little experience of leading.

The name centering prayer was inspired by Thomas Merton. He used it often in his writings, and here is a quote from one of his books, The New Man, which is probably his most fundamental work, and it kind of sums up what we were saying this morning: "If we return to God and find ourselves in God, we must reverse Adam and Eve’s journey. We must go back by the way they came. The path lies through the center of our own soul. Adam and Eve withdrew themselves from God, and then passed through themselves and went forth into creation. We must withdraw ourselves from exterior things and pass through the center of our souls to find God. We must recover possession of our true selves by liberation from anxiety, fear and inordinate desire." We must find our own center, go back to our true selves, so we may find our own center, our true being, where we also find God who is constantly bringing us forth in his love. One thing Merton constantly insisted upon was that contemplation wasn’t something esoteric, wasn’t something just for a special few. Certainly, contemplation is very special – union and communion with God – there is nothing more special, but it was meant for every one of us who have been baptized into Christ because that is so special. We have been baptized, and made one with the very Son of God, a oneness beyond anything we can discern. Contemplation almost pales in the sight of that. Contemplation is just living that, really. So he says here in this little book, "What is contemplation?" "Why do we think of the gift of contemplation as something essentially strange and esoteric, reserved for essentially a small class of almost unnatural beings, prohibited to everyone else? It is perhaps because we have forgotten that contemplation is the work of the Holy Spirit acting in our souls through His gifts of wisdom and understanding, with special intensity to increase and perfect our love of Him. These gifts are the normal equipment of Christian sanctity that are given to us all at baptism. So our baptism is a call to contemplation, to enter into this wonderful union and communion, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, to be with the Son through the Father in the Holy Spirit."

I have mentioned that this little method of prayer is very, very ancient in our tradition. It goes back to the fathers of the desert that has passed through the centuries and has come into our English language through The Cloud of Unknowing. Actually, The Cloud of Unknowing is in some ways a sort of unique thing because for some reason this little 14th century treatise has become unceasingly popular. It is in 5 paperback editions now. It means a lot of people are buying it. Whether they are reading it or not, I don’t know. It has always amazed me how popular this book has remained. There were many other treatises like it at the time. Spiritual fathers and spiritual mothers were writing these things out for their disciples regularly, but this one for some reason caught on, and it mystifies me because it is not an easy one to read. He gives all sorts of cautions at the beginning and the end, and I think that might be why it is so attractive. And it is not well put together, really. But if you work at it, you can pull out sentences from here and there to try to show that the whole method is there.

In Chapter 44 he says, "Simply sit relaxed and quiet." That’s all he says about posture. That’s really all we need. No big fuss about it. In Chapter 4 he says that prayer is simply a spontaneous desire springing towards God. Sometimes I share a prayer with the people, and they are leading others, and I find there might be this great big long prayer that goes on and on. But instead, just say, "God, I am all yours." You don’t need anything more than that. In Chapter 3 he says, "Center all your attention and desire on Him. Let this be the sole concern of your mind and heart." He uses that word, center, too, but in a somewhat different way. It is a centering prayer, too, in the sense that we center all ourselves on God. It is as simple as that. And he says in Chapter 4 that the will needs only a brief fraction of a moment to move toward the object of its desire. It doesn’t need a lot. You can sit down anywhere, anytime and just say, "I’m here. You’re here." No big fuss. We are friends. We are together all the time. In Chapter 7 he spells out the method a little. He says, "If you want to gather all your desire into one simple word that the mind can easily retain, choose a short word rather than a long one, but choose one that is meaningful to you. Then fix it in your mind so that it remains there, come what may." We just choose this little word, love, and it is just there, keeping us there. It is as simple as that. In Chapter 4 he says, "Be careful in this work and never strain your mind or imagination, for truly you will not succeed in this way." Just let the mind spin its words and ideas and pictures and images and so on, and just leave it in peace. Just stay with the Lord. Chapter 40: "It is best when this word is wholly interior without a definite thought or actual sound." You don’t make a lot of the word. It isn’t an ejaculation, or a mantra, or anything like that. It is just a gentle little motion of love. Again in Chapter 40, "Let this little word represent to you God in all His fullness and nothing less than the fullness of God. Let nothing except God hold sway in your mind and heart." This little word is gentle, pointing in the direction to being with God. Then he says in Chapter 4: "No sooner has a person turned toward God in love, then through human frailty he finds himself distracted by their remembrance of some created thing, or some daily care. But no matter. No harm done. For such a person quickly returns to deep recollection through use of the word love." The false self wants to make a big thing of it, but just go back gently to the Lord. Chapter 7: "If your mind begins to intellectualize about the meaning and connotations of this little word, remind yourself that its value lies in its simplicity. Do this, and be sure that these thoughts will vanish." It’s pretty good. You have this wise old spiritual father with a lot of experience, and he says, "This is the way it works." And of course the false self will try to grab onto the word and try to make a big deal out of that. Just remind yourself that its value lies in its simplicity. And finally in Chapter 5 he says, "You should concern yourself with no creature, whether material or spiritual, nor in a situation or doings, whether good or ill, to put it briefly, during this work, you must abandon them all to God." Turn everything over to God. Let Him take care of the world for 20 minutes while you rest in Him. So let’s do that.

I am going to give you a few minutes now to share with a partner next to how your understanding of the prayer has grown since we started last evening. Through the experiences you have had, the talking we have done, just share that and see if any questions still emerge to take care of.

I have a little doggie back in the monastery. He is a purebred mongrel, and we are great friends. After Mass I’ll go out for a walk, and he will come up and jump on me, and say good morning that way, and then the two of us will go out for a walk. But when I am really happy about something and I want to share it with somebody, I don’t usually go out to the dog house and sit down and say, "Hey, Dyers, old pal, guess what?" I look for one of my brothers who can enter into my joy. Now suppose my fairy godmother came along and with her magic wand she bumped little Dyers on the head. Well, she would also have to endow him with a whole new set of faculties so he could think as a human, feel as a human, love as a human. Then I could really share with Dyers, and he could really enter into my joy. Well, you know there is a greater distance between you and me and God than there is between you and me and Dyers. So what did God do? He didn’t bump us on the head. He dunked us in the water. We were baptized. We were made partakers, sharers, participants, in the divine life, raised up to the divine level of being. But in order to share God’s joy, we had to have faculties that were able to, can’t exactly say think, and feel and love in a divine way, and that’s what these gifts of the Holy Spirit are. They are called gifts because they are freely given to us in baptism of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit that became our spirit at baptism functions through them, enabling us to experience, understand, to love as God does. God completely reverences us as no one else does, so He will never force His way into our lives. And what we do in centering prayer is we open the space. We finally say, "OK, Lord, I’m not going to stick just with my human consciousness. I am willing to let my human consciousness go a bit, let my old thoughts and ideas and feelings and images go, and open the space so that your spirit can come in and begin to function through these gifts so that I begin to see things as You see them, experience them as You experience them, and love as You love." So the gift of understanding enables us to see what stands under – the God, the divine reality underneath everything. The Latin word is eligere which means to read what is inside. Or the gift of wisdom comes from the Latin word, sapientia, which means to savor, to taste. We begin to sense the divine in everybody. So this transforms our whole context of being, and naturally, then, the way we celebrate the Office is a whole other way. It is gradually transformed so that we really celebrate and enjoy it so much. There is such richness there, such beauty. In that way it kind of changes that, it changes our lexio, it changes our relationships and everything. It is a whole shift of context.

When you center the computer, which we call the mind, is going to be turning out thoughts and ideas and images. It just keeps going and going and going. Just let it go and go and go, and don’t pay any attention to it. You are paying attention to the Lord. This is one of the difficult things for us when moving into centering prayer because one of the dominant philosophies of our time is, "I think. Therefore I am." In other words, identifying ourselves totally with our thoughts. And that is just completely backwards. "I am. Therefore I think." Take everything way and you say, "I’ve still got my thoughts. I’ve still got my own mind." It is the last bastion of the false self, and in centering prayer, one of the things we learn by practicing the prayer is that I am not my thoughts, and what a freeing thing that is. So the mind just keeps going on, and you will just be gently resting in the Lord.

Let’s just take a look quickly at the idea of the evolution of human consciousness, first in general, and then as it is applicable to the individual. As St. Thomas sets forth his Summa theology he draws a basic idea from St. John Damascene who is the great theologian of the East, and they see that the whole creation as God reaching out, and then bringing everything back to Himself in a great cyclical motion. It is like going out to the farthest possibility away from Himself, pure matter, and bringing it back into the fullness of a spiritual community with Himself. The reason I mention this is that this is a medieval and early Christian idea, and yet we find today these behaviorists who are looking and trying to bring together the insights of behaviorism and of the sciences and so on are expressing very much the same idea. That what is somewhat fascinating for me. In any case, the sciences and these people go as far back as they can and they talk about a big bank. It started somewhere and they don’t know where it started. Without Revelation you just don’t know. With Revelation we do know. There is a gradual evolution development, and they pick a date somewhere back there – something like 5 million years ago – where begins to evolve a certain human consciousness. And they call this first period the uroboric, which really means serpentine, period because at this point the human brain which is just beginning to evolve is hardly more than an enlargement at the end of a spinal cord, something like the brain of a serpent, as the first development of the human mind. And at this point there are these first indications of the human because this evolving creature is able to begin to somewhat organize his life, or its life, in a way that facilitates its ongoing existence, its survival in areas of nurture and generation and so on, and so it is really just a very, very primitive development. The earliest they say is millions and millions of years ago, and is really kind of lost in the shadows, back there somewhere, and there is very little in the way of geological and other kinds of scientific evidences, but there is some. It is only after 200,000 BC they speak of evolution having stepped forward further in a period they call the typhonic age. At this point… The typhonic was a mythological creature who was half human and half animal. The human is emerging, and the thing is that at this point this emerging human senses, understands itself, as being superior to the rest of the animal kingdom, and begins to use the rest of the animal kingdom in its service. It has become a hunter. At this point it is not just concern with the simple things of survival, but a certain pleasure in life. At this point they begin to have frescos on their cave walls, and they begin to have grilled steaks and fur coats, and the whole thing to make life nicer. So there is a certain amount of pleasure coming forth. And the evolution goes on to somewhere around maybe only 10,000 BC, and here there is much more evidence, and so on. These evolving humans begin to form more and more a group, a mass, and it is what they call the mythic membership age. From here the evolution would go on to a unitive period where the individuals would come together into community, a communion. The ultimate culmination of this, of course, would be the cosmic Christ where all is one in Christ, and Christ is to the Father in glory.

In fact, this is where we are, the ratio egoic, for the most part. Some societies are more the mythic membership, and therefore they work together more as a whole, perhaps like Japan that they would be more easily molded into an economic machine, a war machine because there is much less development of the individual. It is happening more rapidly now, but it gives a sense of cohesiveness. Hitler in a certain sense reduced the German people back from their development to a more mass mob to make them a war machine. The great choice at this point is, are we going to evolve to become a human community and to become fully Christ, or are we going to serve power, pleasure and survival? And looking at our society, we can see what ways things are going. We are the most powerful nation in the world. We certainly are pleasure loving. And Star Wars is the epiphany of survival. And that is a sad reality. Now this journey of the human as a whole is lived out in the lives of each person. When we first come forth from the womb, we are purely into survival. We need everything, and all we are interested in is getting the things we need to survive. As we grow we come into what is known as the terrible twos. It is a wonderful time. Everything is mine, and I can enjoy it to the full. I don’t let anything or anybody get in the way. Freedom. Everything goes. And as the child grows, he comes to have a real sense of being part of a family. That is the period when my father was the strongest man in the world, and my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, and my big brother could beat up every kid on the block. Power. I’ve got family. And around 10 or 12 you begin to emerge as an individual. And confronted with the choice. Are we going to integrate ourselves into family and society, are we going to accept the invitation into Christ, or are we going to seek our own pleasure, our own power to survive? It is a challenge every one of us faces. Now it is sad to say, though, that this journey doesn’t go along nice and smoothly. In the womb and as we come out of the womb our survival is very often threatened. Today there is much more sensitivity to this, but when most of us were born, the birth process, itself, was a nightmare. Here we were enjoying the sheltering cuddling warmth of the womb, and suddenly we come out to these bright streaming lights, held upside-down and whacked until we screamed, and then thrown into a sterile bassinet and shipped off. The most traumatic thing that could possibly happen. Today they are trying do things about that in the birthing rooms and so on. Most of us have been through that trauma, plus all the bangs and bumps and harsh sounds we heard in the womb. That is why today we encourage the parents to talk to the child, to sing to the child, and pray to the child, to create the whole atmosphere. We all have had a lot of wounds there, and what happens is, that is playing into us, and we begin to have a terrible need to survive. Psychologists speak of these as tapes, so to speak, that these needs are deep within us, and they can be set off at any time. And this is why sometimes, I have experienced, and I am sure you have, you just bump into somebody, step on their toe, and there is a reaction as though you have put a knife in their back. What happens is, you set off their need for survival. And we all have these tapes. We survive, and we get to be 2. And we all discover that the world belongs to me. We discover we have fingers. We discover we have toes. And Mom is so happy. We discover we have genitals. Mom says, "Oh, no, don’t touch that." Bang, bang, bang, and something happens. This need for sensual pleasure, genital pleasure, is made alien, foreign, and these tapes begin to be created, a need for sensual pleasure, genital pleasure. And so we begin to have problems in that area, and they are deep in us, and they are increased as time goes on. We get through that, and we come to the period when we are supposed to relate to family. Where is the power figure? Where is father? In most families he is not there, and if he is there, oftentimes he is there as an alien power. "You wait until your father gets home. He’ll take care of you." Here’s this little guy looking up at this giant. Power. There becomes a tremendous need for power, so these tapes are all built up in there. We have all these deep psychological needs to survive, for pleasure, for power. And we approach adolescence. No wonder it is such a chaotic period. We have all this stuff going on in us when we are supposed to try to make decisions. And we make decisions with a lot of help and mentoring to try to become a valuable contributor to the community, and to become truly a member of Christ. Now, what centering prayer does is, while you are centering, we allow these tapes to run freely, and they run out. Little by little they run out. And that’s how it is so healing. As I said before, some people go to a psychiatrist. They have the couch, the psychiatrist sits there, and for a little over 50 minutes he lets the tapes run. We pay $80 and go home, and go back a week later and do it again. But in centering prayer we do the same thing in a sense except that you are not just letting tapes run, you are plunging deep into the divine love. We are being healed by the divine therapist. He is not just nudging us along, but He is healing us. So this is the way centering prayer heals. It is not just memories. Memories is part of it, but it is much more deep than that. It is our psychological needs written deep, deep in our being by those things we do remember, and many things we don’t remember. As we sit there and quietly center we just let that stuff play out. And little by little it gets cleaned out, and we get free. We then we don’t have these desperate needs for power, for pleasure, for survival, and we have the freedom to choose to enter into community, to be in union with everyone, to bring our gift, and together we become full Christ.

Let’s take a little break at this time.

Audience: I notice that when I am centering consistently that I don’t sleep as much.

Fr. Basil. Right. You know, I tell people who ask me, how can I make time 20 minutes twice a day to center, if you do, you will gain a lot of time, and one of the things is you will be less sleepy. The other thing is you will be much more alert and present so that when you read things you absorb them much more quickly, when you are talking to people, they sense you are understanding and have less need of verbiage, and get things done much more quickly. Communications are clearer. Your mind is working much more rapidly. People ask me how I write so many books, and I say, "Well, I center several hours a day." You have much more clarity, much more efficiency, and you are able to do things much better when you do center regularly. You gain time.

People ask where is the cross in centering prayer? Where is the asceticism? A Christian has to carry his cross. Well, part of it, of course, is right in the prayer that comes from dying to self. All these ideas come up, and all these feelings, and we just keep going back to the Lord and choosing Him. That’s a real asceticism there, and be faithful to that throughout the 20 minutes is a real dying to self and living to Christ. But the other part of it is precisely this making the 20 minutes twice a day. That’s the crucial thing. Being faithful to practice. And that goes for all the values of our life. Being faithful to do what we really want to do. So I would like to take a few minutes now to talk about a rule of life for ourselves. Some people don’t like rules. They think that rules are cages, something that nails you to the wall. But really, a rule of life should be like a trellis. I don’t know if you have ever had a climbing rose. Now if you have a climbing rose and you don’t give it a trellis, you usually end up with a pile of dead stuff and a couple of flowers on top. But if you give it a trellis, it can do what it really wants to do. It can climb, reach up to the sun and have hundreds and hundreds of flowers. And yet if you look at the climbing rose, you will see that most of the time it is not on the trellis. It is away from the trellis, reaching out this way and that, but when it falls back and needs support, the trellis is there for it. So the trellis in no way inhibits its growth, but supports its growth, supports it in doing what it wants to do, and that is what a rule of life should be. It supports you in being what you want to be, doing what you want to do. And you will find that, life being the way it is, much of the time you are not leaning on the rule of life, but it is there to catch you, to support you so that you can keep going generally in the direction you want to go.

Here is a simple little exercise, first and most essentially, pray to the Holy Spirit. As we quoted before, "Eyes have not seen, nor ears heard, nor hasn’t even entered into the human mind what God has prepared for those who love Him. The Holy Spirit makes it known to us." The rule of life has to serve our life for us to be all that God is calling us to, and we certainly need the help of the Holy Spirit. So that’s the first thing. Call on the Holy Spirit and ask Him to guide us and lead us into the fullness of life.

You take 4 sheets of paper, and on the first sheet you answer that first question that the Lord posited to his disciples. "What do you want? What are you looking for?" Now, we all want to be happy, of course. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to be happy? What is happiness? This is my definition: Happiness consists in knowing what you want, and then knowing you have it or are on the way to getting it. And most people are unhappy because they really don’t know what they want. There are things we want from our very nature. I always tell people, a good rule of life begins with going to bed because if you don’t get enough sleep, you are not going to be happy. We want a certain amount of sleep, a certain amount of food, a certain amount of exercise, a certain amount of intellectual stimulation. These are things we want from our very nature, and for our Christ nature we want a certain amount of prayer, and community and communion with God. We want a certain amount of sacrament, a certain amount of scripture and so on, the things that nurture us. So we have to get in touch with that. What do we want from our very nature?

There are areas where we have to make choices. People can’t make choices because if you choose one thing you have to give up the others. There are choices to be made. People sit on fences, and that is pretty uncomfortable. So ask yourself, "What do I want?" And try to list all the things you want. Try to get them all out there. When you get them all out there, think some more and get the rest out. Get in touch with what you want.

The second page: What do I need to do to get what I want? This is where you get practical. What do I need to do or have to get what I want? How much sleep, how much exercise, how much intellectual stimulation? I want to learn to play the guitar. What do I need to learn to play the guitar? I want to start taking lessons. I want to learn to speak Chinese. What do I need to do to get what I want?

Then the third page: What has been preventing me from being who I want to be, or doing what I want to do? What has been getting in the way of my happiness? What are the obstacles? And this gives more insight into what needs to be done, but also there are some things that I just have to learn to live with, to have the courage to accept some things. When we have all that data, then we are ready to really begin to formulate our rule of life or program. We need to do a program on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. Some things we do every day. Most of us eat and sleep every day. Other things are less frequent. It is good to have a monthly day, or half a day, of retreat or recollection when we stop and take a look to see how things are going, and finding out whether our trellis is really holding up, or if it needs to be reconstructed, and so on. And as we look and see we are going in the direction we want to go, there will be a certain amount of joy. If we see we are not going in the direction we want to go, let’s do something about it. And so once a month take a little time out. That may be a good time to get together with our spiritual guide, or friend. For some people the daily thing works well, actually doing a sort of hour to hour thing. Get up and exercise, shower, meditate for 20 minutes, and they clock their day through. For other people a clock will never work. They need more like a check list. Then weekly, 3 times a week I will exercise, once a week I’ll do some sacred study for 2 hours, etc. Then of course the great fun as you are working on this is you find you need about a 36 hour day, an 8-day week. I once asked the Lord for a 36 hour day, and he said you already mess up the 24 hours. I’m not going to give you any more to mess up. That took care of that. But this is where the decisions have to be made. What am I really going to do? And this is very valuable because a lot of us walk around with a lot of unfulfilled desires, causing ourselves frustration and a certain amount of unhappiness. Oftentimes we are not aware of what is causing it all. When I go through an exercise like this, I begin to clean up house a bit, then we make decisions. When we give up good things to do other good things, we are empowered to do those things. If I have given up something very good for this, I am certainly not going to be foolish enough not to make the most of this. If I have given up marriage to become a monk, I am going to be a good monk. It is too good a thing to give up for anything less. We make real decisions there. And by really giving up these things, we free ourselves from that lurking frustration and unhappiness because they are not fulfilled. So our life comes to have much more clarity and joy and power. So this could be a very empowering and freeing exercise. It seems very simple, but when you do it, you find out it is quite an exercise. And it really helps you to get clarity and strength to do what you really want to do. If you include in it the idea of a monthly retreat day or half day, and at that time meeting with somebody who is walking with you on the journey, I think you will find it a tremendous support so that your life begins to go in the direction you want it to go in. And you won’t find yourself always doing the immediate and never doing the important.

So that is another little practice which is not only a means of supporting your other practices, but as you can see, it is a way of cleaning up, clearing up, setting your priorities, really putting your life in the order that you want it in. Maybe the first time it is a rather big project, and afterwards not so much, but it is something that needs to be continually redone in our retreat days and so on because life is moving on. New things are coming in, other things are going out, our needs, our desires, the cost of things changes. By keeping clarity and having the sense that my life is going the way I want it to go, and obviously this means the way I want it to go is the way God wants it to go, we are in union and communion, the way we want it to go, then there is a tremendous joy and peace. I have written about his in the Epilogue of Daily We Touch Him, and also in the book, Centering Prayer.

Why don’t we stand up and jump up and down, and let’s do a little exercise. Let’s stretch as high as you can, higher, higher. Then let your head go forward until it touches the floor. Then as far to the right as you can, a little further, then off to the left. Then put your hand on your chin and move your head to the left, and then to the right. Now you have stretched every muscle in your body, and you are ready to center.

Here Fr. Basil says, slowly, phrase by phrase, the Our Father.

You have a sense now of what centering prayer is and what it can be in your life and you are ready to go and share it with others. Don’t hesitate to share it, too, especially with someone who is sick. A lot of times people lying in bed, especially if it going to be a long time, they begin to feel they can’t pray, they can’t do anything, to bring this gift to them, how they can very quietly pray this way. Just very gently teach them. Take their hands, and say, "Jesus is present in you." Turn quietly to Jesus. Just say His name. And pray with them a little bit. Then maybe leave one of those blue pamphlets with them. It might open up a whole new vocation to them as contemplatives, and help them to see that their time of illness can be really meaningful, the heart of the Church. God tries to get us all to become contemplatives. With some of us He gets us to a point where we can do nothing else. It can make it tremendously meaningful. Also, it is very good for a person who is sick to get that deep rest coming from the prayer. So bring gifts like that when you visit people who are sick. But don’t hesitate to share it in any way you can. You may want to tie into some group that is already going, or start your own group. The support of a group can be very, very vital.

The Lord be with you. Thanks very much. God bless you.


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